No. 2 Auburn will play No. 1 Florida State in the final BCS National Championship at the Rose Bowl on Monday night. Here are 10 reasons the underdog Tigers will win:
FSU quarterback Jameis Winston became the second straight freshman to win a Heisman Trophy. The previous Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks didn't fare well in their bowl games. In fact, the 16 previous Heisman-winning quarterbacks who played in a bowl game went only 7-9 in the postseason. Worse, the Heisman-winning quarterbacks who played for a national title in their next games went only 4-7.
Auburn's first-year quarterback, a former Georgia defensive back, is getting better in Gus Malzahn's spread offense every week. He doesn't throw the ball very often -- he had only seven pass attempts against Tennessee and eight against Arkansas -- but makes the throws that matter most. Marshall engineered four comebacks in the fourth quarter against Mississippi State, Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama. During Auburn's nine-game win streak, he accounted for 19 touchdowns. His 82.2 total QBR is 12th-highest among FBS quarterbacks.
Like Florida State, Auburn has been very good in the red zone on both sides of the ball. The Tigers scored on 51 of 57 trips inside opponents' 20-yard line (89.5 percent) this season, scoring 42 touchdowns and nine field goals. Auburn's defense limited opponents to 23 touchdowns and 11 field goals in 48 trips (70.8 percent) inside the 20, which was second best in the SEC and No. 7 nationally among FBS teams.
The Tigers excel in nearly every facet of special teams. Senior punter Steven Clark averages 42.5 yards per punt, including eight of more than 50 yards and 21 inside opponents' 20-yard line. Only five of his 50 punts have been returned this season. Auburn kicker Cody Parkey leads FBS players with 67 touchbacks and he's 14-for-19 on field goals. The Tigers were one of 17 FBS teams to return both a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns this season, and Chris Davis averages 20.1 yards for every punt return.
According to ESPN's strength of schedule metric, FSU has the worst schedule strength ranking (No. 64) of any team to play in the BCS National Championship in the past 10 seasons. The teams with the next-worst SOS rankings (2006 Ohio State, 2007 Ohio State and 2009 Texas) each lost to SEC teams by at least 14 points in the national title game. On the flip side, Auburn has a SOS ranking of No. 29 and has a chance to become the first team in college football history to win three consecutive games against top-5 teams, having defeated then-No. 1 Alabama and then-No. 5 Missouri in its past two games.
The Tigers would seem to have an advantage if Monday night's game is close. According to ESPN Stats & Information, FSU hasn't let an opponent get within single digits in the final 20 minutes of a game all season. In fact, the Seminoles haven't trailed at any point in a game since trailing Boston College on Sept. 28. Since then, Florida State has played 571:49 of football and has been tied or led the entire time. Conversely, Auburn won half of its 12 victories by eight points or fewer. The Tigers are 6-0 this season in one-possession games and are 17-3 in those games over the past four seasons, the best marks among FBS teams.
An Auburn victory would seem to be fitting in the last game played during the BCS era. The Tigers can secure the SEC's eighth consecutive BCS national title and the fifth in a row for the state of Alabama. SEC teams have won nine of the previous 15 BCS national titles (the next-closest league is the Big 12 with two), and the last non-SEC team to win a national title was Texas in 2005. The last non-SEC team to defeat an SEC team in a bowl game with a national championship on the line was the 1995 Nebraska team that defeated Florida in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl. Since then, SEC teams have won 10 consecutive bowl games against non-SEC teams with a national title at stake.
Along with Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Cam Newton, Auburn's offensive line was its strength the last time it won a BCS National Championship, defeating Oregon 22-19 after the 2010 season. Auburn's offensive line, led by center Reese Dismukes and left tackle Greg Robinson, is very good again. Robinson, an NFL draft-eligible sophomore, is a potential first-round pick. Dismukes, a three-year starter, will have his hands full trying to block FSU tackles Eddie Goldman and Timmy Jernigan.
Nobody runs the ball as well as Auburn, which leads FBS teams in rushing with 335.7 yards per game. The Tigers ran for 323 yards against Georgia, 296 against Alabama and 545 in a 59-42 rout of then-No. 5 Missouri in the SEC championship game. The Tigers are the only FBS team in the country with four 600-yard runners: tailbacks Tre Mason (1,621 yards, 22 touchdowns), Corey Grant (650 yards, 6 touchdowns) and Cameron Artis-Payne (609 yards, 6 touchdowns) and quarterback Nick Marshall (1,023 yards, 11 touchdowns).
Was I the only one surprised that the latest winning Powerball ticket wasn't sold in the 334 area code? The Tigers seemed to be a team of destiny all season, and unless their lucky horseshoe fell out of you-know-where sometime during their flight from Alabama to Los Angeles, Lady Luck figures to be on their side again on Monday night. The Tigers defeated Georgia 43-38 on a deflected 73-yard touchdown pass with 25 seconds to go, and then stunned two-time defending national champion Alabama 34-28 in the Iron Bowl by returning a missed field goal more than 100 yards for a touchdown on the game's final play. If Auburn defeats FSU, it would become the first team since BYU in 1984 to win a national title after being unranked in the preseason.